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Iraqi Officials Deny Hijab To Be Mandatory At Universities

Female students attend a lecture at the Institute for Preparatory School Teachers in Ramadi in November 2010.

Female students attend a lecture at the Institute for Preparatory School Teachers in Ramadi in November 2010.

BAGHDAD -- Female students at Baghdad University are complaining that attempts are being made by college administrations to introduce the hijab as part of a compulsory uniform, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Rawa Said, a college of education student, told RFI that she has been told by college administrators to wear a head scarf with her college uniform. Saeed said administrators gave her a stern warning that she will be barred entry to the campus if she does not comply.

Nasrin Abdel Hamid, a female engineering student, told RFI that making the head scarf compulsory is a flagrant infringement on personal freedom as guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution.

She said the practice is reminiscent of the days when Islamist militias used to commit similar outrages on campuses. Hamid vowed that as long as she dresses modestly she will resist wearing the head scarf if doing so becomes obligatory.

Women rights activist Shatha Naji told RFI that an end must be put to such violations of public and personal liberties. She said extremist Islamic groups are behind the move to force students to wear the hijab and are using student unions and administrative employees to promote their "outdated notions."

Female students told RFI that they have agreed to stage a peaceful demonstration in front of the Higher Education Ministry if the head scarf rule is enforced at universities.

But the Higher Education Ministry denied that it intends to make the head scarf part of the college uniform.

Ministry spokesman Qassim Muhammad told RFI that Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adib has made it clear that no instructions to enforce such a requirement regarding the hijab have been issued.

Meanwhile, Education Ministry adviser Mohsen Abed Ali told RFI that a top-level panel is drawing up a 10-year plan to develop education in keeping with UNESCO standards.

The panel, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq, includes the ministers of education, higher education, and finance in the federal and Kurdish Regional Government, as well as the chairman of the parliament's education committee.

Ali said the four-pronged plan focuses on dissemination of education, quality of education, and ensuring that education in Iraq meets the market demands and provides qualified personnel for good governance.

The Higher Education Ministry spokesman told RFI that as part of the new policy, the ministry wants to promote private institutes of higher learning and intends to extend recognition to 25 newly established private colleges.

The dean of the college of political science, Amir Hassan Fayyadh, told RFI that the government can start its new education strategy by creating job opportunities for college graduates to demonstrate that getting a higher education is worthwhile.

Iraq currently has 19 universities, 17 separate colleges, and 23 technical institutes.